Government papers: Confusion at effect of first-ever water strike

Ballylumford Power Station
Ballylumford Power Station

Amid UK-wide industrial unrest in 1983, contingency plans were put in place for an unprecedented strike by water staff.

As fears spread of a strike by workers in the Water Service, a confidential note by RWM Irwin of the NI Emergency Committee said that it was difficult to estimate the effects of a water strike as there had never been one before.

The best estimate from the Department of the Environment (DoE) was that there would be enough “good quality water” in store to last “a couple of days”.

He went on: “After the first couple of days the quality of the water will begin to deteriorate and pressure in the pipes will decrease.

“On the assumption that water service staff at management level will continue to work, it is thought that they can keep a supply going for one or two weeks only.

“After this, DoE will look to the Army for help.”

The DoE had advised that it should be able to maintain supplies in urban areas but that in rural communities people would have to rely on “wells and streams” for water.

He said that DoE had no plans for emergency cover for sewerage works “except that they will do all they can to keep the Belfast plant operating because otherwise tidal effects would soon cause a serious back up”.

The note added that the generation of electricity could be maintained while there was a water supply, stressing that at power stations such as Ballylumford “the quality of water is not vital, but quantity is”.